The circus is creepy. It’s just that simple. For the same reason that clowns are creepy… it’s the jarring lights, the spectacle, the overly dramatic smiles. So when Tales from the Crypt‘s Dig That Cat… He’s Real Gone uses the circus as a backdrop for its horrors… it’s pretty dang effective.
It was Season 1 Episode 3, and the first episode directed by series executive producer Richard Donner. Although Donner was by then known for Superman, The Goonies, and Lethal Weapon, his breakout film was a classic horror move, 1976’s The Omen. So working with Goonie’s villain in Joe Pantoliano, while mixing comic books and horror, Donner bringing Tales to the Crypt to television actually seems like a natural fit.
The Story of Tales from the Crypt‘s Dig That Cat… He’s Real Gone
The story begins with a great setup. A doctor pays a homeless man money so that he can conduct an experiment on him. A great Science is Scary premise that actually connects to some classic tales that involve human experimentation and ethics: The Island of Dr. Moreau, The Invisible Man, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.
In this story, the idea is that cats actually have 9 lives. It isn’t just an expression. And this doctor believes he can surgically transplant a part of the brain responsible for this to Joe Pantoliano’s Ulric. And he does. Poor cat. The doctor immediately tests it, and sure enough, Ulric doesn’t die (for long) from a bullet to the head.
Like any natural Tales from the Crypt character, Ulric immediately thinks about how he can make money from this new “super power”… and so he joins the circus!
We’re treated to a number of circus deaths. And yes, circuses are naturally kind of creepy. Afterall, it’s Tales from the Crypt. And like many episodes, there is plenty of backstabbing and deaths caused by greed and revenge. Suffice it to say, not every one of his 9 deaths comes from the circus’s “Urlic the Undying” shtick.
And like any good Tales from the Crypt episode, Dig That Cat… He’s Real Gone has that twist ending that is satisfying, fun, and for most people, unexpected.
Joe Pantoliano gives what everyone expects from any great character actor, and that is a great performance. And the circus backdrop and death “count down” results in a fun ride.
As far as its origin, Tales from the Crypt Dig That Cat… He’s Real Gone is adapted from a story of the same name in Haunt of Fear #21.
The Comic Basis of Dig That Cat… He’s Real Gone
Haunt of Fear #21 was published in 1950, and the story Dig That Cat… He’s Real Gone was co-written by Bill Gaines and Albert Feldstein. Those are names that shouldn’t be any surprise to any Tales from the Crypt aficionados. Bill Gaines was famously publisher and co-editor of EC Comics, creator of Mad Magazine, but also the main person behind the horror EC comics of the 1950s, including Tales from the Crypt, The Vault of Horror, and Tales of Terror. And Albert Feldstein was his main writer and co-editor standing next to him along the way. You’ll notice that William Gaines is credited on every Tales from the Crypt episode. For all intents and purposes, we have Tales from the Crypt because of those two men.
As for the comic book version of Dig That Cat, the story follows the television version pretty closely. It’s being narrated by Ulric as he is in the coffin. It’s done in the form of a countdown of sorts, as he slowly uses up his 9 lives. It’s not surprisingly that this was one of the first episodes the show adapted from the comics. The comic book story lends itself well to a 30-minute time slot, with a fun twist ending.
Interestingly, the comic of “Dig That Cat… He’s Real Gone” includes an electric chair death, which seemed logical in the story. Well, just a few previous episodes Tales from the Crypt used electric chairs very prominently in the William Sadler-starring episode “The Man Who Was Death”. So in this episode, they still used death by electricity, but not surprisingly they staged it differently where Ulric the Undying is standing. It’s a little more dramatic this way. But it also makes it less of a recreation of basically the scene they just had in a past episode.
In all, I consider Tales from the Crypt‘s Dig That Cat… He’s Real Gone a great beginner episode of this classic horror TV show, with a unique premise and solid acting. And with the enjoyable setting of the circus, it has just about all you would want from Tales from the Crypt.
Last Updated on April 21, 2021.